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Canadiens vs. Stars game recap: Old acquaintances leave empty-handed

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It was a hotly contested game, as former teammates on both sides clashed once again.

NHL: Dallas Stars at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens recently went on a seven-game point streak, and looked like they might just play the spoiler for a number of teams in the playoff hunt. Then they started dropping games, losing five in a row before Tueday night, and rolling into town were the high powered Dallas Stars. Featuring for the opponent was former fan favourite Alex Radulov, who is enjoying a successful year alongside Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.

Judging by the start of this game, you’d never believe that Montreal entered it on such a run of poor form. The top line came out, generated a couple of good chances, and ramped up the physical play; an impressive feat against a Dallas team that thrives on that style of play. The Stars however jumped into the driver’s seat shortly after the start, with Alexander Radulov doing what he does best, dipping between players and trying to create space for his teammates.

Yet it was another former Hab who broke the scoreless draw in the first period. A cycle in the Habs’ end saw the puck end up on Greg Pateryn’s stick and he let a bullet of a shot go. At first glance, it seemed he beat Antti Niemi clean to open the scoring. In reality, in front of the net, a falling Radek Faksa got his stick on the puck, deflecting it past Niemi for his 13th of the year.

Montreal found their legs after Dallas landed the first blow of the game, and it was the red-hot Alex Galchenyuk making things happen. Jacob de la Rose fed the puck up to Galchenyuk, who weaved his way through the neutral and offensive zone, and slipped a perfect set up to Artturi Lehkonen, who snapped a shot by Kari Lehtonen for his seventh goal of the year.

After a high-energy first period, the second was played seemingly entirely on the man advantage. At the very least the deciding moments of the period were all on the power play, for both sides.

With Dan Hamhuis sitting for a high-sticking double minor, the struggling Canadiens power play took the ice, and for the first time in a while looked like a serious threat. Galchenyuk collected puck near the blue line, and with a nifty pass found Jeff Petry, who in turn got the puck to Jonathan Drouin. Drouin stopped up and got the puck to Lehkonen, who had to just tap it by Lehtonen to put Montreal in front.

With a second minor to Hamhuis still to kill, the Stars instead took a tripping penalty, giving the Canadiens an almost full two minutes of 5-on-3 time to work with. They wouldn’t need long to make the most of the opportunity either. With Marc Methot ailing after blocking a shot, Drouin slid the puck across the crease to Brendan Gallagher, who blistered a shot into the upper part of the net for his 26th goal of the year.

Things took a turn for the ugly lately in the period however when Brett Ritchie ran Noah Juulsen from behind, drawing the ire of Charles Hudon and Karl Alzner. Despite the egregious hit, only Hudon was given a roughing minor, in addition to Alzner and Ritchie’s fighting majors. On the ensuing power play, some slick interplay between Radulov and Devin Shore led to Jamie Benn getting the Stars within one.

Just as the first two periods contained plenty of physical play and big skill, the third frame did as well. Things were testy to start the last period, with Nicolas Deslauriers throwing a pair of massive hits, which drew the attention of Jason Dickinson.

After their spirited bout, things took a turn for the worst on a massive collision between Pateryn and Andrew Shaw. After taking a hit up high from Radek Faksa, Shaw lined up Pateryn for what looked like a legal body check at the time. The slow-motion replay showed a different story however, as Shaw and Pateryn collided head-on-head, leaving the Habs forward out cold on the ice. After a jab or two from Pateryn the play was stopped and the training staff worked to get Shaw off the ice and into the treatment area of the Bell Centre. As it stands right now, there are no updates, but one can assume that his season may be over given his history of concussions.

Out of said incident the Canadiens ended up on the power play, and Nikita Scherbak turned the Dallas penalty kill into a group of pylons to make it a 4-2 game. Chipping a loose puck through the neutral zone, Scherbak then collected it, went wide around Stephen Johns, and with a perfect power forward move, cut across Lehtonen and tucked in his third goal of the year.

Then it was onto the Antti Niemi show, as the Canadiens tried to run out the rest of the game. They nearly did so, until the final two minutes when Brett Lernout and Byron Froese took back-to-back minor penalties, giving Dallas a 6-on-3 with their net empty.

The feel-good story continued as Niemi dipped and dove, kicking away rebounds and everything thrown at his net. The Finnish netminder denied the team that had bought him out even the slightest chance at a comeback to end the game, including a goal-line pad save as time was slowly ticking away.

It’s a bit of a Pyrrhic victory, as the Canadiens lose at least Andrew Shaw due to an injury, but at the same time come out on top in a highly emotional game that clearly meant a lot to many players involved. Next up on the schedule is the Pittsburgh Penguins, the very same team that started Niemi’s long, strange journey to being Montreal’s current starting goalie this season.

Thoughts

  • It’s hard to not root for Antti Niemi at this point, the veteran netminder was bought out, signed, waived, picked up, waived again, and looked to be on his way out of the NHL for good when Montreal came calling. I don’t know if it’s working with Stephane Waite, or just a chip on his shoulder the size of a Montreal pothole, but Niemi is doing all he can to prove he’s got something left in the tank.
  • The Andrew Shaw/Greg Pateryn collision was an unfortunate accident, up until Pateryn punching him in the face while Shaw was slumped against the boards out cold. Then to blame it on his play style is not only disrespectful, it’s arrogant and an attempt to shift blame away from your actions. For a league where everyone preaches respect for their fellow players, there was a distinct lack of that from the Dallas defender last night.
  • Jonathan Drouin had a very good night points wise, we saw what he’s capable of when given space to operate. Much like Gallagher the prior night, it’s a promising sign that Habs fans can look forward to better things in the coming season.